Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reworking My Ruger 10/22

This is actually the second 10/22 I’ve owned.  I bought the first one, a Sporter model with walnut stock and an 18” blued barrel, from Clark Custom Guns in the early 90’s for squirrel hunting.  Clark had re-worked the trigger, and the rifle was more accurate than I was.  I soon found out, however, it offered no advantage over my other .22, a Browning T-bolt:  if you missed the first shot, squirrels didn’t wait around for a second, scooting quickly behind a tree or branch.  As a result, its semi-auto capability made no difference.  It sat in the safe unused until I sold it to a friend and put the proceeds towards another rifle.

 Time passed, and I discovered that I enjoyed working on rifles.  Eventually, I decided it would be fun to mess around with another 10/22.  I had pretty definite ideas what I wanted.  A barrel longer than 18” was my first priority.  My second was a stock that looked like a rifle stock, not some version of a military-styled carbine.  A “Rifle” model had just come out, featuring a beech stock and a 20” blued barrel.  I thought about this model, but then discovered that Wal-Mart offered its own exclusive 10/22, although it was not advertised as such.  It featured a hardwood (beech?) stock with a rubber-like pad, a light grey receiver, and a stainless barrel that was 22” long.  The price was also right:  $238.12.  So in 2008 I bought one in Cortland, NY, the only Wal-Mart in this area that had continued to sell long guns.

After the first time I shot it, I ordered an after-market, synthetic bolt buffer to replace the factory steel one.  The cycling of the action still makes too much noise, as far as I’m concerned, but the bolt buffer does help.

 Shooting this 10/22 was not only noisy but disappointing.  The trigger pull was somewhere in the six-pound range, and its accuracy was second-rate.  Scoped, with Wolf Match ammo, I was lucky shooting from a bench to put five shots into an inch at fifty yards.  Something obviously needed to be done.  The question was, what?

Browsing in rimfire forums on the Web soon gave me some options to experiment with.  The stock Ruger trigger was still universally lamented (that indeed was why I had bought my first one from Clark years before).  I had little confidence in my ability to take the action apart and stone the relevant parts properly, let alone to get all the parts back in their appropriate places, so buying a replacement trigger seemed the better alternative.  I sent the rifle off to Hornet Products for a new trigger.

 The new trigger was better, no question, but group sizes did not magically shrink.  The next step, according to the wisdom of the Web, was to bed the rifle.  What was different about the 10/22, however, was that its aluminum receiver was secured to the stock by a single screw ahead of the magazine.  In my rifle, at least, this arrangement was anything but rock solid.  I could move the barrel up and down in the stock.  According to comments on the Web, bedding a 10/22 reverses the typical procedure:  I needed to bed the barrel—which is where the majority of the weight was—and float the receiver.  So it was AcraGlas to the rescue.

The bedding job helped shrink the groups, but not as much as I’d hoped for.  I began to wonder if the luck of the draw had given me a not-so-good barrel.  Was it conceivable that Ruger used second-rate barrels for its contract with Wal-Mart, and that was why their price was relatively low?  A former Ruger employee on a Web chat room denied that this was the case, however.  As I was brooding about this topic, I noticed an auction on GunBroker offering a blued, 20” barrel and a stock  from the “Rifle” model (soon to be discontinued), apparently take-offs from someone’s else’s project.  I bought them, put the stock aside, and swapped barrels.  Off to the range.

Well, the experiment was a success in that it proved that the original barrel was not the problem:  the replacement 20” barrel shot as poorly as my 22” one. With that possibility eliminated, I re-bedded the original barrel so it was supported all the way to the end of the stock.  Back to the range.  Results were much the same, ¾” groups.

As all this was going on, I noticed a beat-up Sporter model for sale on GunBroker.  The barrel was rusty; the walnut stock was dinged and scarred.  Not surprisingly, I secured it for a bargain price.  Given I already had a like-new 20" barrel, I didn’t care that the Sporter’s barrel was in poor shape.  I didn’t care about the stock’s condition because I was going to rework it anyway.  And, I figured, its receiver and trigger group plus my like-new “Rifle” model stock and barrel would let me put together another Ruger 10/22, which I could then sell.  Ultimately, the walnut Sporter stock would cost very little.

So I duly bedded the 22” barrel and receiver in the Sporter stock and then reworked the stock.  I did make one mistake in the bedding, however, and that mistake nearly wrecked everything.  Although I applied modeling clay to the crevices and release agent to the surfaces, I apparently missed one crevice completely.  Fortunately, I make it a habit to check on the bedding after about five hours of curing time, so the stock had not quite become one with the receiver and barrel, what is called a glue gun in benchrest shooting.  But the force I needed to break the bond resulted in my cracking the stock at the rear of the receiver in several places.  The recoil of a .22 wasn’t going to extend that crack, I told myself, but it was visible, a permanent reminder to me to take nothing for granted in bedding a rifle.

I much preferred the walnut to the beech stock, but the rifle shot no better.  I touched up the muzzle crown, to little avail.  I experimented with several different scopes, trying to see if going up in magnification helped.  I went up to 12X with an adjustable objective:  slightly better, but only slightly, and of course the field of view became narrower.  That would be fine for target shooting, but not for hunting.

This left the third option I’d read about on the Web, altering the chamber dimensions.  By facing off the end of the chamber and thus minimizing the headspace, a Benz chamber (a slightly shorter chamber with a 1.5 degree taper) could be created.  Accuracy would improve—or so everyone asserted.  Prices were all over the map, however.  In the end, I sent it to Clark Custom Guns for their “Match Chamber,” and they did a fine job.  Groups at fifty yards were now consistently in the half-inch range, if there was no wind and if I did my part.

Not entirely happy with the pull of the Hornet Products trigger, I then ordered Clark’s trigger kit and installed the parts myself.  It turned out to be not as difficult as I’d imagined.  The key is making a slave pin from a nail.   Do that, and it’s relatively simple.  Don’t do that, and tear out your hair.  I could have saved money if I’d had Clark do both at the same time, which is what I’d do were I to rework another 10/22.  Groups were no smaller, but the Clark parts gave a slightly crisper pull than did the Hornet one.

Persuaded by the comments on the web about many virtues of the Ching sling, I ordered one and installed a flush receptacle for the third point of attachment near the magazine.  I then compared off hand shooting with a Ching sling and without.  To my surprise, shooting offhand without the sling turned out to be slightly more accurate than shooting with the support of the sling.  So, if I were to rework another 10/22, I wouldn’t bother with a Ching sling.

I then modifed the stock for what I devoutly hope will be the last time.  At some point, unbeknownst to me, a chunk of the cracked stock behind the receiver had fallen off, apparently the result of my having to force it apart after my less than perfect Acraglas job.  So I altered the stock accordingly, dropping the line at the receiver so it came below the break, slimming the fore end, and adding the pad from the Wal-Mart Ruger stock.  The original Sporter’s plastic plate looked good, but I found out the hard way that if the gun were upright on a smooth surface--like a concrete floor—it could slip and fall all too easily.  I cut ¼” off the bottom of the grip and changed its angle.  Instead of the plastic grip cap, I substituted the steel one Ruger uses for the No. 1 and filed the edges down to fit the modified grip.

Refinishing and re-checkering were straightforward.  Checkering came next.  Having noticed that vintage British guns often carried the checkering on a pistol grip down to the cap, rather than having a ¼” space between the cap and the checkering, I followed suit.  The checkering is 18 lines per inch. 

My penultimate modification was to shift the balance forward by adding three and a half ounces to the fore end.  I drilled holes to fit seven .54 caliber lead balls.  They are glassed in so they don’t rattle, and the Pasco PVC 10 mil Pipe Wrap (available from Brownell’s) around the barrel makes idiot-proofing that much easier.  I deliberately didn’t build the glass up to the level of the barrel, so the lead balls can be removed relatively easily.

With the 10/22 scoped and 5 rounds in the magazine, that change moves the balance point from 4 ¼” ahead of the trigger to 4 and 5/8” ahead of the trigger.  It now hangs better when shooting offhand. 

My last modification was installing and altering an aluminum magazine release made by Tactical Solutions; it looks somewhat like a British under lever.  It worked fine but was needlessly ugly:

It would have cost no more to design it so that it hugged the trigger guard and then terminated in a graceful curve.  I modified it by hand filing and then by filling in the gap between the release lever and the guard with black AcraGlass and smoothing it out.  Black semi-gloss Painter’s Touch turned out to be an excellent match for the remaining finish of the magazine release.

The end result?  A 10/22 like no other.  I may have to spring for some match ammo and see some calm day just how well it can really shoot.  It pretty much embodies how I wanted my 10/22 to look:  the barrel length is suitable for a rifle, the lines are sleeker, the checkering is more generous, and the finish came out the way I hoped it would. 

With the scope, unloaded, the rifle now weighs exactly seven pounds.  But that remaining crack near the receiver is a salutary reminder to take nothing for granted when bedding a barreled action in a stock!


Monday, July 29, 2013

Dating a Double-Barreled Hammer Gun

I recently acquired a hammer shotgun of uncertain age in bad repair because I thought I could learn more about antique shotguns by hands-on examination of a real one.  Given its crudely replaced stock, the price of this one was so low that I didn’t think twice about the expense.  

It had several features which I had never seen before, and those in turn led me to ask:  How does one begin to date an old shotgun?

After some research, the answer is: First, look at its proof marks, which can reveal country of origin and possibly a range of years; second, observe its features to establish a range of possible dates for its manufacture.  This shotgun does have English proof marks, but because there were (and are) no proofing houses in the United States, I’ll start with the gun’s observable features.
The gun in question is a double barrel hammer gun with “C. K. Weston” on the outside of each lock.  At first glance, it appears to be a 10 gauge breechloader with 30” Damascus barrels and bar action rebounding locks.

The scroll engraving is moderate but well executed, suggesting the gun may not have been top-quality but it was some distance above a utility grade. 

It also has extractors, a thumb hole opening lever in front of the trigger guard, and a fore end held by sliding wedge, the barrel bolt.  The (probably horn) tip of the fore end is missing.  The butt stock is a hopelessly crude replacement that's also split.

The rib is marked “LONDON LAMINATED STEEL."  Taking off the fore end and then removing the barrels from the action reveals the following stamps.  On the underside of the barrels, an “F” is on one barrel flat, “CW” on the under-rib, and an “11” on each barrel--which means it is not a 10 gauge as I had assumed but an 11 gauge.  Each barrel is also lightly stamped “C.G.S.,” perhaps the initials of the barrel maker or the person who proved it.

Taping the barrels shows that their length is not 30” but 29 ½” (the two tubes touch at the muzzle, so they do not appear to have been shortened).  In addition, each barrel has proof marks, which I’ll return to shortly.

The two earliest features of this gun are holdovers from the muzzleloading period.  The fore end is held by a captive wedge:

Its buttplate is iron, which protected the butt when it had to be placed on the ground for loading from the muzzle.  The next are the extractors, which were designed by Charles Lancaster in 1852  and date from the pinfire era (Burrard, I,104).  Following close on its heels is the snap-action (the gun locks the barrels to the breech as soon as the shooter swings the barrels closed).  Following the French patent by Francois Schneider in 1858, Westley Richards built the first English version as a pinfire in 1858 (McIntosh, 141).

Like a pinfire, the Weston is a breechloader, but it takes centerfire cartridges, so it has to date after 1861, when George Daw introduced what was essentially the centerfire cartridge (Akehurst, 72).

The Weston has rebounding locks, which means that the hammers do not stay down on the firing pins when the gun is fired but rebound to half cock.  As a result, the shooter did not have to place the hammers on half cock before being able to open and reload the gun.  This feature was introduced about 1863 by Stanton (Hadoke, 72).  According to Donald Dallas, they began to appear with regularity in the late 1860’s; by the 1870’s, the older form of half cock/full cock had all but disappeared (Dallas, 126).

The development of the rebounding lock also meant that the hammer position could be varied.  The early centerfire hammers followed the position of the pinfire and percussion hammers:  they sat up proudly, with their cocking spurs protruding well above the top plane of the barrel.  In the 1870’s and following, hammers became smaller and rather than sitting up proudly, seemed almost to crouch.  Indeed, some gunmakers began to boast in the 1880’s that their hammers were out of the line of sight (Dallas, 126).  On this gun, the hammers are in a medium position, neither high nor low:


The thumb hole or “Purdey” opener in front of the trigger guard was patented in 1863; it was the original lever that operated the Purdey bolting system (Hadoke, 135).  Like the Jones underlever and the side lever, the Purdey opener eventually gave way to the top lever, but it persisted well into the 1870’s (Hadoke, 175).

The barrels seem not to be choked, an innovation popularized by W.W. Greener in 1874.  Of course, not everyone wanted this new invention.  As the old saying goes, “Choke lengthens your reach and lightens your bag.”

Damascus barrels continued to be manufactured into the 20th C., so their presence does not tell us as much as would the presence of fluid steel barrels.  The “LONDON LAMINATED STEEL” stamped on the rib may or may not have anything to do with that city:  given that London was synonymous with quality, its appearance may be no more than advertising.  English “Laminated steel” was of high quality, however.  Hadoke quotes Greener praising its hardwearing qualities as better than any other:  “Steel barrels, even of the best quality, will not stand heavier charges than the best barrels of English laminated steel.”  A minor drawback was that laminated steel did not display the intricate patterns of other kinds of Damascus barrels (Hadoke, 117), and indeed the Damascus pattern of Weston’s barrels is quite subdued.

The barrels are relatively heavy, weighing five and a quarter pounds, and that robust weight, together with the 11 bore, slightly larger than the 12, suggest that the Weston perhaps was made for water fowling.  W. W. Greener says that an ordinary pair of 12 gauge barrels (which would be a bit lighter than ones for the larger 11 gauge) would weigh only a little more than three and a half pounds (231).  The standard gun for water fowl was a double 8 bore with 30-32” barrels; even in its “Light” configuration it would weigh 11-12 pounds.  For duck shooting, Greener likes the 10 gauge weighing 10 pounds; he argues that it will shoot heavier loads with better effect than a 12 gauge, while it can also shoot larger-sized shot better than a 12 gauge (298).  In these terms, the 9+ pounds of the Weston 11 gauge seems quite moderate! 

Proof marks:  fortunately for the purposes of dating an English gun, both London and Birmingham changed their proof marks periodically throughout the 19th Century.

Diggory Hadoke's Vintage Guns has illustrations of 19th and 20th Century proof marks from London and Birmingham.

The proof marks on the barrels look most like the Birmingham ones used from 1868-1875.

What is not here provides some useful, if negative, evidence as well.  The barrels do not have “NOT FOR BALL,” a proof house warning which began in 1875, let alone “NITRO PROOF” for smokeless powder, which began in 1896.

Tentatively, therefore, it appears that the gun was proofed in Birmingham sometime after 1868 on the early side (given the Purdey opener and rebounding locks) but before 1875 (given the lack of choke boring and the absence of the “NOT FOR BALL” warning that began in 1875).  The mid-positioning of the hammers suggests the early 1870’s.

As for C. K. Weston, he may have been the maker, the retailer, or the owner.  I would like to hear from anyone with more information about him.

[For another post on a Scott hammer gun, see my http://gerardcox.blogspot.com/2014/03/dating-another-double-barreled-hammer.html .]
Sources Consulted

Akehurst, Richard.  Sporting Guns.  London:  Octopus Books, 1968.
Baker, David J.  Heyday of the Shotgun:  The art of the gunmaker at the turn of the last century.  Long Beach, CA:  Safari Press, 2000.

Burrard, Major Sir Gerald.  The Modern Shotgun.  3 vols.  New York:  A. S. Barnes, 1961.

Dallas, Donald.  The British Sporting Gun and Rifle:  Pursuit of Perfection 1850-1900.  Mechanicsburg, PA:  Stackpole Books, 2008.

Greener, W. W.  The Gun and Its Development.  9th ed. [1910].  New York:  Bonanza Books, 1967.

Hadoke, Diggory.  Vintage Guns:  Collecting, Restoring & Shooting Classic Firearms.  New York:  Skyhorse Publishing, 2008.

McIntosh, Michael.  Shotguns and Shooting.  New Albany, OH:  Countrysport Press, 1995.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mossberg 500 Pump Shotgun: My 1 of 10,000,000

O. F. Mossberg and Sons has just announced the production of its ten-millionth Mossberg 500 pump gun, a remarkable number given that production of this model only began in 1961.  My own experience of using a Mossberg 500 goes back some 15 years or so.  At that time, I decided that the best solution to the slug shotgun-only requirement for deer hunting in Tompkins County (NYS) was a Mossberg pump with a barrel rifled for sabot slugs.  As someone used to bird shooting with doubles, I liked the position of the Mossberg’s safety on the rear of the receiver, approximately the same as on the tang of a double.
It would be a 20 gauge.  I saw no reason to get a 12 ga.:  I wasn’t going after Cape buffalo but white tailed deer, and a 20 ga. Winchester Supreme slug—actually a .454 Casull bullet in a sabot—at an advertised 1750 fps would do just fine.  I found a used 20 ga. 500 in excellent shape at a gun show and bought it.  Its birch stock with impressed checkering was no thing of beauty, but it was functional, offering a choice of two comb heights.  Its rifled barrel had a cantilevered mount for a scope.  I bought a used Leupold shotgun scope for it. 

 I added a new recoil pad and a sling, as I find it awkward to glass while holding a gun.  When I’m patient enough to glass carefully, I often can see deer before they see me.  That advantage goes a long way toward putting venison on the table.

But, about five years ago, I began hunting deer not only locally but in Maine with my close friend Mike Bennett.  One day in Maine, filling the gas tank in the rain, I must have looked pretty woebegone because a complete stranger asked me if we’d had any luck. On hearing my emphatically negative reply, he offered to show us a good place to hunt.  Not only did he take us there, but he hiked all over it with us in the rain, getting completely soaked in the process.  It was a spectacular act of kindness.

It is indeed a good place, but that area specifically requires that deer hunting must be with smoothbores only.  I’d been happily hunting with rifles in Maine, but in this new place neither they nor my rifled Mossberg would be legal.  I did have another smoothbore suitable for deer, but it was an Indian trade flintlock I’d put together when I was bewitched by the idea of re-enacting the French and Indian War period.  It was a single shot, of course, and I’d already learned the hard way that flintlocks are not the firearm of choice when it’s raining.
The best solution seemed to be ordering a smoothbore slug barrel for the Mossberg.  It cost something on the order of $120, and it was dead easy to install.  I sighted it in at 50 yards and felt good to go off to ME.  Despite the saying, “One shot, meat; two shots, maybe meat; three shots, [you fill in the blank],” I felt more comfortable with a repeater (indeed, once near home I’d inexplicably missed a buck with my first shot and dropped him with a second, something that would not have been possible with the slow-to-load flintlock), and rain would pose no problem.  As it turned out, however, during our next two annual hunts, Mike saw the only deer, and, using my flintlock instead of his more customary original Spencer or Sharps rifles, he didn't connect. 

Then, this April, Boyd’s sent me a catalog of semi-inletted gunstocks, and as I leafed through it I noticed that a walnut butt stock was available for a 20 ga. Mossberg 500 for just under $60.  My experience with a pump gun is limited, but I did recall a comment by Gene Hill in his Shotgunner’s Notebook.  Noting the importance of stock dimensions for shooting well, Gene Hill praised the superb dimensions of the stocks John M. Browning designed, adding:  “Gun handling facility is the same regardless of the action.  The Brownings I just referred to are the old autos and pumps.  The old Winchester Model 12 at one time had the option of a straight stock—and that’s what I used for quite a while shooting trap.  I believe that the old Model 31 Remington pump was also offered with such a stock.  I certainly wish the new ones were, along with a couple of other options such as length of pull and a bit of cast.”  Hmm, I thought, why not cut the pistol grip off the Boyd’s replacement stock and give it a straight stock?  As I planned to install a recoil pad, getting the LOP I wanted would be no problem.  I doubted I’d need much cast-off, but if I did, that also would be no problem.
When the butt stock arrived, I cut off the pistol grip.  I then trued up the lines of the stock (the underline especially had a hint of fish belly, which might look right on a Win. M ’97, but not on a contemporary gun like the Mossberg 500).  I then installed a Limbsaver pad (with a sports-injured shoulder, I am a wuss about recoil, and in a light gun like the 500 that Win. Supreme load kicks like a mule).

I finished the stock, following the steps described in my earlier post on building a woods rifle.
Boyds unfortunately does not offer a walnut fore end.  For the time being, I contented myself with sanding down the former impressed pattern and simply re-checkering that outline on the birch fore end.  On the butt, the checkering pattern gave me pause.  Eventually, I decided to experiment with something other than straight lines terminating the checkering close to the receiver.  Here's the checkering before dying and finishing it.

The larger quasi-ellipse is meant to carry the lines of the receiver into the stock, while the two others above and below replicate it in miniature.  Later, I may slim the fore end down and try to make it more graceful as well as less bulky.
Up to this point, I had been assuming I’d continue to use the smoothbore barrel’s open rear sight.  I was no Hawkeye with those open sights, but I’d proved to myself that offhand I could keep my shots on an 8” paper plate at 50 yards, and that level of accuracy is all you need (that, plus seeing a deer within range, of course).  Then, one day, I suddenly noticed the plug screws on the Mossberg’s receiver.  Their spacing reminded me of the screw-on base that had come with my Ruger 10/22.  And yes, indeed, the two rear screws appeared to match the spacing in the base.  That meant that I could attach it with two screws to the receiver and then attach to that a sight I already owned, a NECG aperture sight made for grooved .22 receivers that I’d bought used a year ago, simply because it was too cheap to pass by.  Here is the NECG aperture sight.

  I had to fuss with the plate a bit, enlarging the holes slightly, cutting it down, and re-blacking the aluminum, and then I used Threadlocker Blue on the screws to fasten it to the receiver and added the peep.

Suddenly my Mossberg 20 gauge was becoming a remarkably versatile gun for deer.  With its rifle barrel and cantilevered scope, it was perfect for hunting near home: 

Alternatively, with its 24” barrel, peep sight, and a straight grip stock, it could be an accurate smoothbore for deer. 

And, if the goddess Fortuna ever smiles on me in the Maine woods and I manage to tag a deer, I can easily remove the NECG sight and have a perfectly usable grouse gun.

Given its straight grip and the unique checkering pattern, I doubt there’s another Mossberg 500 like it.  That’s why, following at a distant remove the example of the 1873 Winchester 1 of 1,000, I like to think of my 20 gauge Mossberg 500 deer gun as One of Ten Million.

Afterword:  Unfortunately, when I tried to sight in the Mossberg with its peep sight, it shot way too high, even with the peep depressed as far as possible.  I needed a much higher front sight.  That seemed like more trouble than I wanted to take on, so I took off the Ruger base and added a Weaver base for a scope.  That works fine.  Now I'm hoping to find a deer.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Building a Scout--No--Woods Rifle (Part 1 of 3)

Building a Scout--No--Woods Rifle (Part 1 of 3)

A year ago, I found a copy of Jeff Cooper’s To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth (1988) at a garage sale.  I had on occasion read Cooper’s back-page pieces in Guns & Ammo, finding him consistently provocative, though often wrong-headed. (His opinions reminded me of the quip about the great angling writer E. R. Hewett, that he was always right and occasionally even correct.)  For $1.00, the price was right, so I bought his book and read it, discovering, among other things, that the rather puzzling title derives from a Persian king’s precepts for young noblemen as reported by Herodotus.  

My first reaction to his account of the general-purpose or Scout rifle was that he was trying to create a rifle equally adaptable to hunting, home defense, and military purposes, and thus the equivalent of a jack of all trades and master of none. But I kept thinking that his conception could result in a first-rate hunting rifle.

The previous year, Sturm, Ruger had come out with its Gunsite Scout in .308 Winchester, and after reading Cooper’s book I began to pay attention to reviews of that rifle.  Those reviews tended to praise the Ruger’s reliable 10-round magazine and its attractive flash suppressor.  The contemporary emphasis on large-capacity magazines and flash hiders seems to appeal primarily to military-or-SWAT team wanna-be’s as well as to the (not altogether distinct) segment of the population that believes it needs to be prepared for home invasions by nearly overwhelming forces, not excluding those of the BATFE.  I was uninterested in military applications and skeptical about any rifle’s utility for home defense—if that were a concern, I’d personally opt for a shotgun.  Nevertheless, motivated by some contrarian impulse (perhaps Cooper’s lingering spirit?), I started thinking about what features I would like to have in a handy rifle for hunting.  As I wanted to hunt whitetails in the dense woods of coastal Maine and New York’s Finger Lakes, I would call this more specialized adaptation of Cooper’s concept not a Scout but a Woods rifle. 
 Cooper’s concept of a Scout Rifle owed much to the successive Scout Rifle conferences he convened at Gunsite Academy in Paulden, Arizona, beginning in 1983.  Although Cooper desired to create a general purpose rifle, the dominant emphasis was its suitability for a military scout.  It’s much to the point that Cooper’s notion of a scout’s mission apparently dates back to his own youth in the 1930’s.  According to his friend Robert Boatman, Cooper had always remembered the definition from his high school R.O.T.C. manual: “the scout is a man trained in ground and cover, movement from cover to cover, rifle marksmanship, map reading, observation, and accurately reporting the results of his observation.”  At its core, this notion is as much romantic as it is military, drawing on James Fenimore Cooper’s novels and Stewart Edward White’s popular biography of Daniel Boone, Wilderness Scout, as well as on the lore about scouts like Jim Bridger and Kit Carson.  Another tributary to this romantic myth was the Scouting movement begun by Lieutenant-General Lord Baden-Powell, who in fact had performed reconnaissance scouting against the Zulus.  It is doubtful that anyone actually on a scouting mission ever carried a rifle similar to Cooper’s conception, or, indeed, ever would.  But once we discard this romanticized “scout” application, Cooper’s conception of the general purpose rifle still has some interesting applications for hunting. 
Drawing on the features of two near legendary short rifles, the Mannlicher-Schoenauer bolt action 6.5x54 mm and the Winchester M 94 lever action .30-30, as well as on the Number 5, Mark I, SMLE jungle carbine and the Remington 600, the various Scout conferences Cooper convened came up with broad parameters for this rifle’s Platonic form: no more than one meter in length, and no more than three kilograms in weight.  A meter, of course, is a tad over 39 inches; a kilogram, a bit over 2.25 pounds.  This general-purpose rifle then would have a relatively short barrel of 18-19” and a relatively light weight of just under seven pounds (unloaded, Cooper specified, but with accessories in place).  A bolt action was settled on because of its reliability as well as a perceived lack of need for a scout’s rapid follow-up shots that might betray his position.  The preferred caliber was the 7.62 NATO round, the military version of the .308 Winchester, in part because its cartridge and its bolt action were shorter and therefore lighter than the .30-06’s and in part because that round was available world-wide.            

So far, the Cooper Scout would seem to be only an updated military carbine, and they go at least as far back as the Brown Bess flintlocks that Roger’s Rangers chopped down during the French and Indian War.  What Cooper believed set the Scout apart was its sighting system.  Although Cooper never actually states that his Scout was the very first carbine to have a low-power forward mounted scope, he certainly gives that impression, forthrightly declaring that the forward mounted scope “distinguishes the modern scout rifle from its predecessors” (p. 136).   In fact, as I learned from David Fortier’s review of Ruger’s Gunsite Scout in RifleShooter (May/June 2011), the Germans used throughout WW II just such a weapon, the Mauser K98k short rifle with a low power, forward-mounted scope, the ZF-41.  Following up on this information, I discovered that some 98k’s even had  integrated 25-round box magazines (see Robert W. D. Ball’s Mauser Military Rifles of the World, 3rd ed.).  One would think that at some point Cooper would have acknowledged the existence of these Mauser 98k’s, even if they might not have directly influenced the conception and evolution of the Scout. 

Such an intermediate-eye-relief (IER) scope allows a user to shoot with both eyes open and, in theory at least, thanks to the scope’s low power (less than 3X) to retain peripheral vision as well.  Cooper believed that such an arrangement was the fastest possible for sighting a rifle.  In the event of a scope failing, the conferences also proposed a back-up system of iron sights (which, incidentally, was also a feature of the Mauser 98k with its side-mounted ZF-41 scope just above the typical rear sight).

What are the capabilities of such a rifle?  Here, the Scout conferences fudged slightly, if understandably:  if one factor is the cartridge in front of the bolt, the other factor is the nut behind the bolt.  For Cooper, such a general-purpose rifle should be capable of striking a single, decisive blow on a target of up to 200 kilograms in weight.  On the topic of range, however, the language gets fuzzy: at “any distance at which the operator can shoot with the precision necessary to place a shot in a vital area of the target” (p. 134).  For animals up to 450 pounds, then, and as far away as the rifleman is assured of a one-shot kill.  We are not considering minutes of angle here, therefore, but practical accuracy, be it for human or other animals.

Building a Scout--No--Woods Rifle (Part 2 of 3)

Part II:  Planning My Woods Rifle
With the clarity that sometimes comes when you wake up at 3am, I realized that I already had a rifle that I could make over into a Woods rifle.  It was a 7x57 Mauser sporter that I had consigned to a local dealer.  It had not sold, so I had taken it back..  It consisted of a DWM 1908 Mauser action with a 24” medium weight stainless barrel in a Boyds laminated wood stock. 

Although this rifle retained its two-stage military trigger, its let-off was crisp.  It also had a pleasingly swept-back bolt altered to clear a scope, and a Buehler safety.  I had bought it from an auction on GunBroker.com, and the problem was that I had neglected before bidding to ask what it weighed.  For my purposes, it was simply too heavy:  adding a scope to its one-piece mount took the scale past nine pounds.  My first idea was to turn it into a rifle W.D.M. Bell might have used, but as I began calculating what it would cost to add iron sights and perhaps an original bolt shroud and safety plus, of course, a walnut stock, and then perhaps a modern finish like Cerakote that would darken its stainless barrel, the expense made that idea go glimmering.  Sometime later, however, the penny dropped:   I suddenly realized that converting this too-heavy rifle into a general-purpose one might be its highest and best use, with one major qualification:  this would not be a quasi-military Scout but a handy rifle for hunting in the woods, a Woods rifle.   

Mausers are hell for stout and thus are far from light, so I had no illusions about making Cooper’s ideal weight of six and three-quarter pounds.  There was no reason, however, that it couldn’t be well-balanced, relatively short, and therefore handy.  One feature in its favor, as far as I was concerned, was that there would be no protruding magazine.  (This is the only reason I didn’t decide instead to work over an SMLE that had already been converted by someone else to a sporter and was therefore inexpensive.) Without a protruding magazine, and with the scope forward of the receiver, I could carry the rifle at its balance point with my thumb over the action, far and away the most comfortable as well as the quickest one-handed carry to the shoulder.

I began to jot down a to-do list.  The 24” barrel would have to be turned down to lose weight.  I decided to have it shortened to 20”, in part to balance visually the 13 ½” stock length (1/4” shorter than usual for hunting in late fall in ME) and in part to lessen muzzle blast (it’s interesting to see how many chat-room comments complain about how loud the muzzle blast is from the 16 ½” barrel on the .308 Ruger Gunsite Scout).  The full-sized laminated stock with its 14” LOP would have to be cut shorter at both ends.  A better recoil pad was called for, as well.  I also decided to add a extended floorplate release button (available inexpensively from Midway), so I would not have to mess around with the point of a bullet to remove the floorplate.  The button protrudes slightly, but it is close enough to the front of the trigger guard not to be in the way when carrying the rifle.  One could save weight by having a blind magazine, but I wanted to retain a detachable floor plate. If a cartridge becomes jammed in the magazine, I reasoned, it’s much easier to clear it when you can detach the floor plate.

The major problem in converting a conventional rifle to a Scout has always been mounting the scope.  A new barrel could be turned with integral mounts, but that of course is expensive.  Another solution is adding the quarter rib from the Ruger No. 1:  less expensive, but that steel rib adds weight.  A few years ago, XS Systems began to offer an aluminum sleeve to fit over the barrel.  This solution is light in weight and relatively inexpensive at $60, though that does not include the cost of turning down a commercial barrel.  (In these terms, the cheapest solution would be to use a military Mauser barrel, as the XS/Clifton sleeve is designed to fit its progressively stepped down contours.)
I decided to go with the XS Systems sleeve.  I already owned a Lyman peep sight that would fit the Mauser, so if I liked how this rifle handled and believed I needed back-up iron sights I could mount that Lyman 48 together with a front sight.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Building a Scout--No--Woods Rifle (Part 3 of 3)

 Part 3:  The Woods Rifle Takes Shape

After the XS/Clifton sleeve arrived, Fred Cornell (Custom Shooting Accessories, 3579 Willawena Road, Sayre, PA, 18840; 570 888-9236) removed the action from the barrel and turned down the barrel on his lathe.  He then turned the receiver end to the dimensions required for the XS Systems sleeve.  After shortening the barrel to 20” with a muzzle diameter of .590”, Fred crowned it and sandblasted it.  He then screwed the receiver back on and epoxied the XS sleeve in place, each of us checking that it was at top dead center.  I had thought of darkening the sandblasted stainless barrel to match the anodized aluminum sleeve, but decided that I rather liked the contrast. 

I already owned a Lyman peep sight that would fit the Mauser, so if I liked how this rifle handled and believed I needed back-up iron sights I could mount that Lyman 48 together with a front sight.

Now it was time to start working over the Boyds JRS stock.  Inletting the barrel sleeve was the first step. Here Jerrow’s inletting black was helpful, although as usual more ended up on my fingers than on the wood

The next step was to Acraglas the action and barrel sleeve, being especially careful to use both modeling clay to fill in gaps or screw holes as well as Brownell’s release spray. After the action and sleeve were fitted, I filled in the barrel channel gaps created by turning down the barrel with more Acraglas. 

Boyd’s laminated birch stock was generous in its dimensions but needlessly overweight at 2 ¾ pounds, so, after cutting back the fore end to 8 ½” from the front action screw, I cored the butt.  The top line of the grip resembled a ski jump, so I filed down the rear of the receiver tang, rounding the sides to make a gradual transition into the pistol grip.  Doing this completely eliminated the square-bottomed trough in the wood where the withdrawn bolt encounters the wood and much improved the top line of the grip.  Rasping down the grip, shortening its sweep, and using a plane on the sides of the stock removed more excess wood (laminated birch may be stable, but, as I discovered, it can and does tear out).  I then cut enough off the butt to make the length of pull 13 ½” once I added a Pachmayr recoil pad.  Just for pretty, as the Amish say, I added a grip cap of ebony just over 1/8” thick and rounded its edges.

The final weight of the stock without recoil pad turned out to be just under two pounds; adding the Pachmayr pad and screws took the total to just under two pounds, four ounces.  Even with a heavier recoil pad, the stock was now eight ounces lighter.  Cutting off the cheek piece would lighten the stock even more, but I like cheek pieces.

Finishing the stock was straightforward:  I first dyed the wood with a blend of dark walnut and red mahogany aniline dye.  I then rubbed in two coats of alkanet oil.  After waiting several days for that to dry thoroughly, I applied two coats of McCluskey’s spar varnish thinned with mineral spirits, then a full strength one everywhere bare wood was present, including the cored section of the butt.  Then two coats of TruOil, sanding it in after the second coat.  Three coats would have provided an adequate finish, but I decided to apply more to fill the torn-out divots.  I rubbed down successive coats down with auto rubbing compound until the tear-outs disappeared.

For the scope, I found a good deal on a like-new 2.5X Leupold Scout that weighs only 7.5 oz. The 7x57 cartridge is noted for its relatively light recoil—and with its DWM action probably at least one hundred years old I had no plans for hot-rodding my handloads.  As I was not worried about a magnum’s severe recoil, I ordered matte Millett aluminum rings.  Together, the scope and rings weigh just barely over half a pound.  I checked that reticule was centered on the scope and mounted it so its rear is flush with the front of the receiver. 

Rather belatedly, I decided to go with a Ching sling.  I drilled a ½” hole for the detachable swivel ¾” of an inch in front of the bottom metal and epoxied in the insert flush with the stock.  Or, I should say, almost flush with the stock:  I had made a mistake in using the plane of the barrel channel as a guide on the table of the drill press.  What I should have done was keep the barrel channel down but shim it so that the underline of the stock became level.  Then the insert would have fit flush, rather than being slightly skewed fore and aft.  And, of course, doing this before finishing the stock would have resulted in a neater outcome.  I reinstalled “regular” swivel studs on the fore end and butt with the detachable one in the middle, so I have the option of using either a regular two-swivel sling or a three-swivel Ching sling.

Here are two views of the result of this project so far.  I still have to figure out a way to give some texture to the grip and fore end--all the glue between laminations would dull checkering tools--and, of course, load up some 7x57's and head to the range.  Those results will be in a later post.

For what I finally decided to do to give some texture to this stock, see http://gerardcox.blogspot.com/2015/04/stippling-gun-stock.html


Jeff Cooper. To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth. Paulden, AZ: Gunsite Press, 1988.

David M. Fortier, “Scout’s Honor,” Peterson’s RifleShooter, 14 (May/June 2011), 22-28. Review of the Ruger Gunsite Scout.

Chuck Karwan, “Scout It Out,” Shooting Illustrated, VI, No. 1 (Jan. 2007), 23-7, 46-7. On building your own Scout from milsurps.

Brian Pearce, “Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle: The Cooper Concept Refined,” Rifle, No. 265 (Nov. 2012), 50-55.

Patrick Sweeney, Gunsmithing: Rifles. Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1999. I first read about building Scout rifles in his excellent chapter on this topic.




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rossini's Armida and the Conflict between Duty and Pleasure

Rossini's 1817 opera Armida  is not widely staged these days--some would say with good reason.  Based on Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered (1581), it features Armida, a princess (who just happens to be a sorceress), and Rinaldo, a Christian knight, one of the Crusaders who have come to free the city.  What this means in casting is that there's one soprano and six tenors or basses, depending on who's available.  The plot is risible:  sorceress meets knight, sorceress enchants knight, carrying him off to a bower of bliss where they reiterate their undying love for each other; sorceress loses knight because two other knights rescue him from her spell, literally and symbolically, and the knight exits to fight the good fight.  Armida gets the last word, or rather aria, surrounded by the fiends she's unleashed from hell, and she's really, really mad.

Soprano Renee Fleming has made the role of Armida her own, and in 2010 the Metropolitan Opera staged it, including a Live in HD broadcast shown in movie theatres on May 1, 2010, that I wasn't able to see at the time.  Yesterday, I just happened to notice an announcement in the Ithaca Times that it was going to be re-broadcast for one performance at our local theatre chain.  I enjoy opera in general but don't know a lot about it.  I knew nothing about this opera.  Armida is not worthy of notice in Dent's still useful survey Opera (1940), and what he does say about the composer Rossini is less than inspiring:  "All the Italian operas of this period depended for their success on the singers. . . .  The school of which Rossini is the head achieved their popularity not merely by the florid and showy music which they composed for all the voices, for tenors and basses as well as for sopranos and contraltos, but very largely by the adoption into serious opera of methods hitherto restricted to musical comedy."  Then came the two lines that made me wonder whether it was worth seeing:  "What the general public has always wanted was to hear the greatest singers in the most trivial music.  Rossini had among his many gifts a genius for triviality."

Hmm, I thought, should I go or not?  My tastes in opera are not so austere that I'd fail to enjoy "a genius for triviality," other things being equal.  Rather than tossing a coin to decide, I suddenly recalled YouTube.  Sure enough, there were lots of film clips of Fleming singing the opera's final aria, and she was wonderful.  One I especially enjoyed and would recommend watching if you're at all interested has Fleming singing voice-over while Rossini's score flashes up on the screen.  So many notes, one is tempted to exclaim, and so close together!  Wow!  That did it:  off I went to take in the 2010 re-broadcast of Rossini's Armida.

Was it trivial?  Certainly, in one sense:  from Mary Zimmerman's production, no one would ever realize that the plot taken from Tasso embodies a Renaissance theme beloved by visual artists and neo-Platonic philosophers, the theme of Virtue Reconciled to Pleasure. As Edgar Wind pointed out in Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance (1958), the ultimate source for this topos was the myth about the adulterous love of Mars and Venus.  From their union came a daughter, Harmony.  Often, in fact, "harmony" was then viewed as the concord of otherwise discordant elements:  when they are in balance, love ensues; when they are not, strife and hate.  Painter after painter portrayed aspects of these opposing forces:  Botticelli's Mars and Venus, Raphael's The Dream of Scipio, and Veronese's Mars and Venus, to cite only three of the ones Wind discusses.  And in Antony and Cleopatra, even Shakespeare, popular dramatist though he was, includes aspects of this uneasy union.  None of this, as far as I could tell on one viewing, was ever recognized, let alone included, in this Met production.

Was it florid?  You bet.  Showy?  Except for the fiends encased in scaly body armor with long scaly tails, no, not really.  Lawrence Brownlee, who portrays Rinaldo, is a more than competent actor with a wonderful voice, rich and almost as agile as Fleming's.  Most of the opera was not showy (in fact, the ballet went on far too long), but when those two are on stage, which is the majority of the time, the music is spellbinding. 

Would I go again tonight if I could?  You better believe it.  To quote someone perhaps more attuned to the pleasures of the senses than Professor Dent, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful."

Bottom line?  A hit, a palpable hit.  It can be seen on your computer or iPad with Met Opera on Demand (http://www.metoperafamily.org/ondemand/index.aspx?icamp=mood&iloc=wllgbucket).